Holiday Surprise
rating: +19+x

December 21, 1967
GRU-P Safehouse, Siberia

The cold wind blew hard, the snow even harder. Even with their limited accomodations Red Storm was not in the most comfortable position for the holidays, or at least it might have been a holiday for others. For Red Storm, it was another day on the job. It was looking more and more like the team might have to miss any fun New Years events. It was always a possibility, they all knew that— but none of them were hoping for it.

Well, at least none of them except Anya Moloknya. It almost seemed uncanny the way she was so unfazed by the sub-zero temperatures and blizzards. Of course cold weather was nothing unusual for them, but this…

The howling winds could keep most people up, but not Moloknya. Instead she was sound asleep on an old worn couch, without even a blanket. She was the only one among them who would volunteer for a mission into the Siberian mountains on New Years Day.

At least they had some shelter in here. The walls were able to keep out the worst of the wind, and they had a fireplace that could offer some warmth. But there was only so much they could do. The place had been stocked with provisions, and they had least had some mildly comfortable furniture.

Vasili Kestrov sat in front of a waning fire. In one hand he had a journal. In his other shivering hand was a pencil. With the fire going down, he was limited to the faint light of an oil lantern as he hastily tried to write everything down.

His attention was drawn by the sound of a man cursing. Kestrov turned his attention to see Dmitri Tchaikovsky seated at the radio, desperately manipulating dials and switches in what was looking like a futile effort at transmission.

"No luck yet?" Kestrov asked.

Tchaikovsky removed his headphones and looked up at Kestrov, shaking his head.

The wooden door swung open, bolstered by the wind, as a man in a heavy coat entered with a few logs under his arm. The cold air quickly swarmed both Tchaikovsky and Kestrov. The two of them felt like they'd been hit by a freight train as the cold wind entered. Strangely, the only reaction Moloknya had was mild shuffling.

The man stepped inside, and momentarily struggled to force the door closed. He pulled down his hood and removed his goggles, revealing the familiar face of Major Sergei Veronin.

"I managed to get some more firewood," Veronin said. "It can at least keep us going a little longer."

Kestrov closed his journal and slid it into his pocket, before he approached Veronin and began to take some of the wood.

Veronin turned towards Tchaikovsky. "Any luck yet?"

Tchaikovsky shook his head. "This storm is causing too much interference. I can't get anybody."

"Well keep trying."

"Maybe I should go get some more wood," Tchaikovsky said. "I could use a break fr-"

"You're not going anywhere," Veronin said. "You've seen the weather out there. I can't have my people getting lost in the snow."

He paused for a second. "Help Kestrov with the fire. And would someone please get Moloknya a blanket?"

Tchaikovsky quickly grabbed a blanket and gently placed it over Moloknya's sleeping form, before turning to the fireplace.

Veronin took a seat in front of the fireplace as Tchaikovsky and Kestrov began adding wood.

Suddenly, their attention was drawn towards a noise. It was a loud booming sound. Like thunder.

"Did you hear that?" Tchaikovsky asked.

"Thunder?" Veronin asked. "That's strange." He stood up and made his way toward the window. His mouth dropped in awe as he stared.

"I think you might want to see this."

Kestrov dropped a block of wood as he stood and approached the window, Tchaikovsky following close behind.

The night sky was suddenly engulfed by a massive blue-green vortex that dwarfed any effect produced by the aurora borealis.

"Are you seeing this?" Kestrov asked.

Tchaikovsky's eyes widened as he looked at the strange anomaly. "What is that?"

"I don't know," Veronin said. "I don't think I've ever seen anything like it."

"Should we report this?" Kestrov asked.

"How?" Tchaikovsky replied. "There's too much interference for me to get a radio sign- Wait, what's that?"

A silhouetted shape emerged from the center of the vortex. As it started to come into view, they could make out the strange spherical shape.

"I don't recall the cult having anything like this," Tchaikovsky said.

"I have a feeling it's not the cult," Veronin replied.

As the balloon descended, the vortex began to fade, slowly giving way to the night sky. But there was something else, the balloon was not just descending- it seemed to be coming toward them.

A few meters away from the cabin, a set of five or six large columns suddenly jutted out of the snow, forming a perfect circle. As the last traces of the vortex disappeared, the object landed in the center of the new formation.

It was a hot air balloon.

"You think there's anyone inside?" Tchaikovsky asked.

"I don't know," Veronin replied. "Get your coats on, boys. And someone please wake up Moloknya."

Tchaikovsky and Kestrov looked at each other nervously. "You want to do it this time?" Kestrov asked.

Tchaikovsky walked toward the couch where Moloknya was sleeping. He very gently placed a hand on her shoulder and nudged it. All he got was a slight moan as Moloknya shifted her head. He tried pushing a bit harder…

Next thing he knew, Tchaikovsky was prone on the ground, Moloknya sitting on top of him with her blade over his neck.

"You need to work on your reactions," she said.

Tchaikovsky looked Moloknya in the eye and sighed in defeat. He remained on the ground as Moloknya placed her knife back into her boot and stood up.

"You two done messing around?" Veronin asked. Kestrov was already standing next to him, pulling on his left glove.

"Moloknya, get your coat on. We're going outside."

Kestrov walked over to Tchaikovsky, extending one hand towards him. Tchaikovsky looked up and grabbed it. He grunted as Kestrov pulled him to his feet.

"We're not leaving already, are we?" Moloknya asked as she fastened her jacket.

"Not in this weather," Veronin replied. "We've got a possible anomaly on our doorstep… literally."

"You think it's the cult?"

"I'm not sure," Veronin replied. "Bring your rifle just in case."

Moloknya smiled as she picked up her gun and followed the boys outside.

The walk might have been shorter had the terrain been more favorable. Instead, the four of them had to trudge through snow that went up to their knees. Within seconds white patches formed all over their clothes. Even with the gloves, Kestrov's fingers were starting to feel numb. And it was so dark. All their lanterns seemed to illuminate was more snow. Tchaikovsky could have sworn there was snow falling into his boots. Even Moloknya seemed to struggle to keep her footing.

Fortunately, Veronin had the foresight to mark their path, so they could find their way back to the cabin.

"What crazy fool would fly a hot air balloon out here?" Tchaikovsky yelled over the wind.

"Wait, you see that?" Kestrov asked.

"What?" Moloknya replied.

"I thought I saw movement inside- oh there it is again!"

They could just barely make out an orange figure climbing out of the basket.

"How'd he survive out here?" Tchaikovsky asked.

"I don't know," Veronin said. "But we'd better see what he knows."

As they got closer, they noticed the strange figure was dressed in something resembling an orange space suit, but nothing like they'd seen on any cosmonauts in recent years. This looked more like something out of an American science fiction movie, except the visor kept the man's features hidden.

Weirdly, on top of the helmet, he seemed to be wearing a Santa Hat. Even more strangely, he was pulling something out of the basket- a large sack that looked conspicuously too big to fit in the balloon.

As the unit approached, he enthusiastically turned toward them.

"AH HELLO FRIENDS!" The orange-suited man yelled. "MERRY CHRISTMAS!"

The unit stared at the visitor in utter confusion.

"Ah, you must be my Foundation escorts!" the visitor said. "I'm here for the party!"

"What party?"

"The Christmas party! The one you invited me to!"

Moloknya looked at Tchaikovsky, who exchanged a similar look of confusion.

"Sorry I'm a bit late," the visitor continued. "There was construction going on at the veil nebula and I had to take a detour through the pillars of creation. Oh, I needed to talk to Stanley!"

"Stanley?" Veronin asked, growing increasingly confused about what was happening.

"Yes, Stanley Kubrick! He's making some science fiction movie and wanted me to give him tips on how to make space look really accurate! Oh he must be running late. I guess you'd better take me to your Site so I can tell you all about my adventures! You're SCP Foundation, aren't you?"

Kestrov stared in confusion. "Um…" he started to mutter. "Yeah, yeah we're with the… Foundation. You'd better come with us."

"WONDERFUL!" The spaceman yelled excitedly. He then proceeded to start skipping effortlessly through the snow.

"You're all seeing this, right?" Tchaikovsky muttered.

"So what do we do?" Kestrov asked. "Should we try to restrain it?"

"Not yet," Veronin replied. "Whoever he is, he doesn't seem to be hostile and we don't know what he's capable of. Let's try not to provoke him yet."

Moloknya stepped up. "One question- what's an astronaut doing in a balloon?"

"Exactly," Veronin replied. "I say we go along with him for now, see if we can find out what we're dealing with before we take any action."

Veronin turned back toward the strange visitor and called out "Hey"

The visitor turned in surprise.

"Our base is this way," Veronin replied, motioning toward the marker he placed in the snow. The man suddenly started bouncing toward them, hopping up and down like he was on the moon.

"Oh, I suppose I should ask. What do we call you?"

"Why I'm the Astroneer!"

"Alright then, comrade… Astroneer. Let's get you to the base."

As they made their way toward the base, the strange man calling himself the "Astroneer" began rambling about his latest adventures, seemingly unphased by the cold around him. Something about a zepplin, a beautiful girl in a space suit whose face he was afraid of seeing, a "chronicler" who told his story. It was hard to keep up, especially when the team was so focused on navigating the harsh terrain.

"PERFECT!" The Astroneer yelled as he saw their base. "I'd better get ready for the party."

The Astroneer immediately ran towards the cabin. The rest of the team followed.

Kestrov took a moment to pull down his hood and take a deep breath. It was still cold but inside it felt a little bit more comfortable. Moloknya was already unzipping her coat. Kestrov walked over to the firepit to get it set up.

"Oh, this is way nicer than your other facilities," the Astroneer said.

"I'm sure you can understand if we have questions for you," Veronin said. "Why don't you take off your suit?"

"Oh no, I can't do that," the Astroneer said. "That would be inappropriate."

Moloknya sat down at the wooden table and put her feet up. "So who exactly are you?" She asked.

"Why I'm the ASTRONEER!" He said. He put particular emphasis on his name, as though it clarified everything.

"I don't think I've heard that name before," Veronin said. "Is that an American term?"

"America? Oh, no no I'm not from the Megellanic cloud."

Moloknya leaned forward. "We're not asking about the Megellanic cloud. He's talking about America, the-"

"Union of galaxies based out of the Megellanic cloud. It's a great vacation spot but no, I don't come from there personally. But enough about me. Who are you? I don't think I've met you before!"

Veronin approached the spaceman, taking a moment to think how to respond. Finally he decided to simply tell the truth, at least partially.

"My name is maj- Sergei Veronin" he finally decided to drop the military rank, being unsure if it would be safe to mention that. "That's Vasili Kestrov, Anya Moloknya, and Dmitri Tchaikovsky. We're part of a… research team investigating strange occurrences."

"Nice to meet you all! Now let's get to the party!"

"The party," Kestrov muttered. "Well, some of the… guests are delayed so we might have to wait a bit longer."

"Oh no problem," the Astroneer said, a sense of whimsical joy in his voice. "Now presents!"

In all the confusion of his presence, they had apparently failed to register the sack he was carrying over his shoulder, which he immediately slung over and slammed onto the table. "I got presents for EVERYONE!"

He reached into the sack and pulled out four different packages, each one wrapped in bright-colored wrapping paper.

One by one he handed them to each of the team.

"Go on, open them!" the Astroneer said, a hint of anticipation in his voice. "I picked these out specially for you!"

Moloknya bent forward and opened her gift first. As she started pulling apart the ribbon and the wrapping paper, the Astroneer started bouncing up and down with anticipation. At first, she seemed to be playing along. Her eyes widened when she saw what was inside.

It was a scope, made out of a shiny silver alloy. Moloknya stared at it, not entirely sure what just happened. She immediately got up and picked up her rifle, carefully detaching its old scope and replacing it with the new one.

"Try it out!" the Astroneer eagerly said. "Shoot me!"

The entire team turned toward him, confused about why he would make such a request.

"Do it! Come on!"

Moloknya picked up her gun and looked down the new sights. She paused as she saw something very unusual- it looked like some numbers in her field of view. Then she figured out- it was tracking windspeed velocity and moving the crosshair accordingly.

"FIRE!"

Moloknya pulled the trigger before anyone else could react. Next thing they knew the astroneer vanished and rematerialized behind Moloknya. "Amazing, isn't it!"

"Yes," Moloknya replied, still unsure how this seemingly random gift was a perfect fit for her.

Tchaikovsky began unwrapping his gift. As he unfurled the wrapping paper, he realized it was a mechanical component, although he did not recognize exactly what it was or how it worked.

"I thought you could put that to good use."

Now it was getting very confusing. The Astroneer seemed to be here at random and had no idea where he was, yet he was somehow able to get presents allegedly suited to each member of Red Storm.

Tchaikovsky sat down, closely examining the piece of equipment.

"Now what's taking everybody so long. If only Felix were here. He had business to take care of in the Andromeda Galaxy. He'd know exactly how to fix this."

The Astroneer reached into a fold in his suit, pulling out a piece of paper that seemed way to large to fit inside. "Here it is! My invite! It says, you are cordially invited to…"

He stopped and stared at the paper for a second. Then flipped it around. "Oh no! I had this invite upside-down! The party was supposed to be at the Crab Nebula. Oh good, this means Felix can make it! I'd better go pick him up. If I leave now I can still catch an aetheric wind!"

Before any of the team could react, the Astroneer vanished. This time he didn't materialize.

"Where'd he go?" Kestrov asked.

Moloknya's attention was drawn to the window. "Um… I think I know!"

As the others approached, they saw the vortex appear in the sky once again. The shape of a hot-air balloon was silhouetted against it, flying up towards the center. Then it was gone.

Suddenly Tchaikovsky started laughing. Kestrov and Moloknya turned toward him.

Tchaikovsky was sitting in front of the radio when he looked up at the others. "That piece. That weird… module… thing. I'm not sure what it is or what it did but it managed to boost the radio signal! I can get a message out!"

"Excellent," Veronin said. "Tell HQ we need extraction."

Tchaikovsky enthusiastically put on his headphones and began making the transmission.

Meanwhile Kestrov turned to Moloknya and Veronin.

"So what do we tell them about… that guy?" Kestrov asked.

Veronin looked at him. "What do we say? A spaceman came down and gave us a radio booster. This is GRU-P. We've dealt with less believable things."

"GOT IT!" Tchaikovsky yelled. "But I also got something else."

He placed the receiver on the table. A familiar voice came through it, speaking as though it was the greatest speaker system in the world.

"Oh hey friends!" The Astroneer's voice called out. "Sorry, I think I left my kaleidoscope in the Kuiper belt. Can you tell me which way's south from the intersection between Belgium and Jupiter's red spot?"

Tchaikovsky looked at the others in his squad, unsure how to respond.

"Um…" He muttered. Directions on Earth were one thing, directions for a strange spaceman were another. "Have you tried… left?"

"YES OF COURSE!" The voice shouted in response. "How could I forget. I just need to follow Polaris!"

"Isn't that the North Star?" Tchaikovksy asked.

"No no, the OTHER Polaris. The one in the south from Vega. Thank you!"

"You're… welcome," Tchaikovsky replied, visibly confused about the spaceman's odd words.

"I have to go now. Goodbye friends, and Merry Christmas!"

The astroneer's voice was replaced by static. Tchaikvosky turned off the radio.

"Seems like a nice guy," Kestrov muttered. "You don't see a lot like him."

Even Moloknya had a faint smile as she listened to his words.

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